Johnson: Irish Border `Being Used' to Keep U.K. in Customs Union

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson upped his rhetoric about the U.K.’s border with Ireland, saying the issue was being exploited to sabotage Brexit.

The question of how to keep all the government’s promises -- leaving the EU’s customs union, not erecting posts on the Northern Irish border and not separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. -- has become one of the biggest issues in the Brexit talks. A draft legal text on the U.K.’s departure from the EU, to be published Wednesday, is likely to inflame issues further.

Supporters of a close relationship between the U.K. and the EU argue that a customs union would solve some of the Irish problems. The customs union ensures tariff-free trade, even as it falls far short of the deep integration provided now by both countries’ membership of the single market.

Johnson on Wednesday rejected it as a solution.

“What is going on at the moment is that the issue of the Northern Irish border is being used quite a lot politically to try and keep the U.K. in the customs union -- effectively the single market -- so we cannot really leave the EU, that is what is going on,” the foreign secretary told Sky News on Wednesday. “There are very good solutions that you could put in place that would obviate, prevent any kind of hard border but would allow goods to move freely.”

Johnson argued that these solutions would be along the lines of London’s road-toll system, which uses cameras to read car number plates. However, border checks would mean looking inside vehicles as well. Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said Wednesday that he had found Johnson’s comments on the issue “confusing.”

When he was campaigning for Brexit in 2016, Johnson said the Irish border would be “absolutely unchanged” if Britain left the EU.

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